— PK —

On grime, drill, Camden, athletics, YGG, radio, a life-changing fortnight in Sierra Leone, self-belief, focus and why the hustle never stops.

(All photos submitted by PK)

The last time I saw PK was at Reprezent Radio in Brixton. He’d made himself available to come along and jump on set with Utah? And Grizzle — two excellent DJ/producers he’d never met or worked with before — for a one hour special back in May 2019. His set, peppered by unfamiliar and experimental instrumentals, was breathless, explosive, charismatic — an hour of radio I don’t think I’ll ever forget. Afterwards, the four of us caught up for a drink. “How do you manage to spit like that without ever really catching a breath?”, I remember asking, perplexed by his ability to pump out so much physical energy on mic. “Unlimited lungs”, PK replied, totally deadpan at first, before breaking out into a smirk. “Nah, nah for real though, I do exercises and stuff every morning to help with my breathing. I take it serious, you know.” From that moment, I knew PK was different.

Fast forward almost two years and he’s navigated the pandemic with similar gusto. “It’s been hard times for everyone and obviously everyone’s dealt with this Corona thing differently and what not, but I already knew the path I chose when I became an artist”, he says assuredly. “I have to be ready for anything, you get me. This is just experience points. I wasn’t expecting shows to be locked off for this long but we’ve just gotta make do with what we’ve got and continue the journey basically. Keep going, tunnel vision.”

PK was born and raised in North West London and has been based in Camden specifically since 2002 — an area he attributes for shaping both the person and MC he’s become. Worn like a badge of honour in his bars, it was here that’d he’d meet fellow YGG crew member, Saint, at primary school and pick-up his pen for the first time as a nine year-old. “My mum was by herself and she had to struggle a bit with me and my two brothers sometimes but it didn’t really affect man growing up”, recalls PK. “I just kind of got on with things. I was a naughty kid in school though, just doing dumb shit all the time. Do you know what? In primary school, it was more of a thing where you go to school because you have to and you don’t know any better and it was kinda laid back. But secondary school? That was a long one. When you realise you’re actually going to school and you’re doing Maths and Science… bro it’s long innit. You’re beefing teachers, having passas in the playground, having passas outside the school gates … I guess it was just what growing up was like.” 

“Were there any subjects you particularly enjoyed at school?”, I ask. “I was in the Athletics team, innit. Man was on this 200 metres ting, I was on this long jump ting for some reason, and relay as well. I was quick innit, one of the quickest in my year. Mad stamina. I played football as well but I never took it as seriously as some people, I’d just play in the playground or outside school with my friends.”

“I was in the Athletics team, innit. Man was on this 200 metres ting, I was on this long jump ting for some reason, and relay as well. I was quick innit, one of the quickest in my year. Mad stamina.”

Music would come later. PK’s household wasn’t musical by definition, but there was always music playing. He recalls his mum picking him up after school and driving him around at weekends and it’d be on these trips that the first seeds of his musical education were planted. “She had this little red Volkswagen Polo and there’d always be tunes on the radio playing”, he explains. “She’d play her own music a lot as well and I think that’s where everything started, before I started expanding and making my own decisions about what music to listen to. There were so many different tunes I remember and I’ll go back to some of them now and think, ‘rah, that was a banger’, but I just didn’t know at the time. Certain tunes would get stuck in my head for time. It might be Gospel or something I’d heard on like, Magic FM, and I’d pick up little things from everything I listened to back then without even realising.”

It was at secondary school that PK first starting discovering music for himself. Grime was his first love — “it was what man grew up on” — but he also caught the first wave of the dark and sludgy UK rap pioneered by artists like Giggs and K Koke in the late 2000s. “It was a lot slower innit, so by the time I got good at writing bars, everyone had moved onto this rap ting”, he says, laughing. “It meant I was playing catch-up a little bit but I always enjoyed grime. I couldn’t let it go like a lot of people did at the time, you feel me. And then obviously Channel U came along and just educated the mandem. Obviously I’m from a different era … I wasn’t taping sets off the radio and stuff … I was more time listening to Logan Sama on KISS and other old school man, you get it. That was my education.”

“What was it about grime that you loved?”, I ask. “I dunno, it was just from the streets, it was dark … I just liked it”, PK says before pausing to think for a moment. “I don’t think it was the tempo or anything like that, it was just something raw. Everyone could do it, everyone was spitting, everyone had bars. It felt unique. Look at ‘Brown Bear Picnic’ by Bearman … you can make a tune about anything but make it sound hard in grime. You knew where it came from as well, you knew the man that were making it or you felt like you knew where they were coming from. I don’t know how to describe it properly but that generation just felt more free. Man could make different types of tunes and they’d all bang, innit. That’s where my energy comes from, that old school vibe of just being being free.”

“Look at ‘Brown Bear Picnic’ by Bearman … you can make a tune about anything but make it sound hard in grime.”

“In school, grime never felt like a thing that could ever happen for man though”, PK continues. “I knew I had bars but that was it, I didn’t think I could make a little bit of bread from it the way man are making bread from it now. For a while, I thought I might have to get a normal job or something because it was basically a time where you couldn’t make P, like, at all. It really didn’t feel possible so I count myself very, very lucky innit. I started when I was about nine and never stopped but it wasn’t until I was 16 that I thought, ‘yeah, fuck it, I can do it, let me just try a ting’. I knew that I had to try and give it a go.”

“Did you ever get nervous spitting in front of friends at school?”, I ask. “Nah, I didn’t even mind. I knew I was good, innit, so I never felt nervous. I was practising when everyone fell off so by the time I got to 16, I was really confident in my ability. It was more of a show and prove thing, really.”

“I knew I was good, innit, so I never felt nervous. I was practising when everyone fell off so by the time I got to 16, I was really confident in my ability.”

After leaving school, PK flitted between a couple of jobs — one as a kitchen porter, the other at JD Sports — but by this point, he could see a pathway with music. Determined to not like his chance slip, he started seeking out studio time with childhood friend and fellow MC, Saint. “Ah I remember we were getting bumped at the start”, he says, chuckling. “We were meant to have an hour slot in this youth centre in Kilburn but we didn’t know that there had to be mix downs and stabs and layers … the only thing we knew were the verses and the ad-libs back then, innit. The olders would just use the rest of our time for their own sessions, it was peak. I loved it though, it was sick. I remember in that first session, we had like four man on a tune … it was me, Saint, my bredrin Nasty and my other bredrin Historical. It was sick just being able to hear our bars back on our phones. It was like ‘rahhh, we wrote that and now it’s on our phones’! It was sick. That youth centre is closed now though which is a shame because it was a place where a lot of North West man used to go, even people like C Biz and that. It’s sad that the new generation won’t be able to experience what we got to experience.”

Having caught the bug, PK, Saint and his friends from school started to book in as many sessions in Kilburn as they could. Before long, they’d stacked a load of new material, too. “Every time we went and recorded something new it sounded better than the last time, do you know what I mean?”, says PK. “It was a learning process for us, we were learning how to record ourselves and about mix downs and stuff like that. We just kept going back after school. Whenever we could get there, it was like, ‘alright, boom, let’s do a session’.” 

“When did you decide on the artist name?”, I ask quizzically, “and what does it stand for?”. “Basically it was a name that people started calling me in the ends innit”, he says sheepishly. “It was a different abbreviation before but it changes as I get older. The last definition of it was ‘Pagan King’ but now the new one is ‘People’s King’. Every time I get older, it changes.” “What’s next?”, I ask. “I dunno, I dunno … we’ll see when I’m 84.”

The next step conceivable step was radio. Confident on mic after hours of recording at the Kilburn studio, PK knew he could hold his now on the airwaves — it was just a question of where and when. “The first time I ever went to radio was with Saint and it was on Mad Vybez’s show on Urban FM”, he recalls. “I remember me and Saint were just about on ends when he got this text from a DJ, who was saying there was a set and basically telling us to come to radio. We didn’t even know where it was or anything but we went. We took a free Uber there and on the way back, we just bumped it. I remember getting there and touching mic and man didn’t have the proper grip and that, so my voice wasn’t coming out that clearly. I think the lead was a bit dodgy as well, it kept cutting out while we were spraying. We basically spat for like two straight hours at this studio in Enfield, no water or breaks or nothing. We didn’t know what was going on to be honest but I remember the next day, it was uploaded to Soundcloud. The audio was a bit muffled but it still sounded sick. I remember just thinking, ‘rah we’ve got actual audio of us spraying bars, this is mad’.”

By this point, PK and Saint had already started to call themselves YGG, short for first, Young Grime Gods, before later settling on You Get Grime. Lyrical Strally, a fellow MC the pair had first met through a young Novelist, would soon become the crew’s third member in a move that sharpened up all three MCs — both as individuals and a collective. “We all just started spraying together all the time”, recalls PK, “but then there was a spell shortly after that where I didn’t see Strally for ages. Randomly, I saw him outside a rave at Kingston Uni, it was so mad. I got his number and was like, ‘yo, holla me innit’. I started inviting him to radio with me and Saint because by this time, we’d got the vibe and found our radio voices and that. From that point, we just started battering radio but then Saint went to university, so it was just me and Strally for a while. We battered it so much that people thought Saint and Strally were brothers or even the same person. I can’t remember what set it was, but I remember Saint and Strally turned up together for the first time in ages and people were like, ‘wait, there’s two of them?’. From there, it just made sense to make it official and we became a triple threat.”

Already starting to mark themselves out as MCs to watch as part of a golden generation of grime spitters that included the likes of Novelist, AJ Tracey, Jammz, Big Zuu, Capo Lee and countless more circa 2015-16, YGG quickly saw their stock rise. Like relay runners on set passing the mic between them like a baton, YGG were equally charismatic as individuals on record, and their chemistry was natural and felt unique to them. They released their first official single, ‘Okay’, in September 2015 having already featured on AJ Tracey’s ‘Red Bull’ — a track lifted from his breakout project, ‘The Front’ — and continued to release a steady stream of singles throughout 2016 and 2017. “It was sick to be part of that movement”, PK says warmly. “It was happening fast you know, I’m not gonna lie. I think we’d all been grinding from early and as a group of MCs, we all just bucked each other at the right time, at the right moment. We started getting co-signs from crazy people from different areas of grime that we never thought we’d get in that space of time and it was all just mad. Radio as well, like we were everywhere … Flex FM, Empire, Radar, Mode FM, Rinse, BBC 1Xtra, NTS. The only radio station I haven’t been to is probably Capital FM or somewhere like that.”

“I think we’d all been grinding from early and as a group of MCs, we all just bucked each other at the right time, at the right moment. We started getting co-signs from crazy people from different areas of grime that we never thought we’d get in that space of time and it was all just mad.”

Their standout moment undoubtedly came in the form of 2016’s ‘Side By Side’ Remix. Produced by Spyro, who himself was enjoying his own career reboot at the time, the original mix featured Big H, Bossman Birdie & President T and had been widely considered one of the year’s most memorable grime singles — but YGG had other ideas. Commissioned by Amy Becker, who reached out to PK and co to release a remix as part of her Amy Becker Remixes 12” alongside the likes of Logos, Scratcha DVA and Deamonds, the YGG mix turned clubs upside down from the get go. The bars were especially reload friendly — see PK’s opening ‘Ay Caramba!’ line as a case in point — and the flows so natural, it was perhaps no wonder that all memory of the original mix started to drift away. “Do you know what’s so mad?”, PK asks. “We didn’t even expect that tune to be mazza like that. Amy Becker hollered us, we dumped on the instrumental, she put it out and literally, everyone just loved it. It was mad, still.”

The YGG buzz culminated in the release of 2017’s ‘World Domination’, released on Logan Sama’s KeepinItGrimy imprint— a nine-track opus of sorts that reinforced their manifesto; ‘YGG to the world and back’. “We’ve always wanted to go global”, PK says, “and we’ve always been focused on leaving a legacy. A lot of the music we make is just us having fun with it, but we know we’ve gotta keep building to help spread the YGG sound as far as we can.” To their credit, they haven’t slowed down since either — even if many of their peers have either switched up their styles or abandoned releasing grime altogether.

“On a personal level, I’ve just carried on doing what I wanna do”, PK notes. “It’s weird because when genres like drill were first coming through, everyone in grime saw it and we all knew we had to prepare. We knew the grime buzz wouldn’t last. I think it just made me more determined to keep doing what I was doing, but it also taught me to be more open minded to new things as well. It doesn’t have to be a grime thing or a rap thing, it doesn’t have to be anything really, you get me. As long as people vibe to it then that’s all that matters. Even then, when drill was proper booming off and people didn’t wanna to listen to grime, man still did it, man kept working through the trenches and I’m still doing it now. But I was never afraid to expand my mind or look to do new things. I’ve just always kept making grime because it’s a part of me, innit.”

“It’s weird because when genres like drill were first coming through, everyone in grime saw it and we all knew we had to prepare. We knew the grime buzz wouldn’t last. I think it just made me more determined to keep doing what I was doing, but it also taught me to be more open minded to new things as well.”

Although YGG are still very much a part of PK’s make-up, grime’s recent lean spell has encouraged the trio to look outwardly and record their own solo material, too. It’s a move that’s resulted in some of PK’s career-best work — see 2020’s ‘Om-Buckle’ and Brazilian-flavoured recent single, ‘Favela’ — and seen Strally branch out into the club space, working closely across a number of singles with Leeds-based bass imprint, 1Forty. “Anything PK does is still YGG in a way”, PK affirms, “…it’s still in the YGG pot, you get me. It’s like anything Skepta does, Boy Better know is always there in the background. It’s the same vibe with all of us in the crew, I think.”

“Explosive”, he says without a moment’s pause after we start discussing his MC style. “I feel like I can do me better than anybody else can do me. I’m me, innit. I’ve been me for a very long time, I’ve been me for 26 years and I’ve always been the same, even in school. I’ve always been a character, so I think I just transfer that energy to my music. When you’re seeing PK being PK, it’s me. It’s not even a strategy thing.”

While he may be explosive, PK is also a deep thinker — everything has a meaning. Some of his most memorable bars are one liners or ad-libs (‘Yosho’, ‘Bad Ombré’, ‘Ay Caramba!’) and even certain vocal effects (‘Pyoooooo’) but every single one is rooted in personal experience. “Again, it’s just me being me”, he says matter of factly. “I say things that sound sick but then I add meaning to them. ‘Yosho’ is something old school that people used to say in the ends, it’s basically wagwarn innit. ‘Yo’ means wagwarn and ‘Sho’ means showerman. It’s probably more of a North West London thing thinking about it but yeah, people always used to say ’Yosho’ or just ‘Sho’, but no one was screaming it anymore. I wanted to bring it back.”

“’PYO’ means ‘protect your own’ or ‘protect your origins’ innit”, PK continues. “That came from me going to Sierra Leone for two weeks to see my grandma. Basically, there’s these three wheel buggy things called kekes yeah and they’re two door, innit. You’ve got the driver and you can fit about three people in the back and anyone can jump on. The person I was with, who was supposed to be showing me around, started trying to move to a girl who’d jumped in and I remember thinking ‘rah, you’re really on this ting’. I just left him to carry on and I remember looking out the window of this keke and seeing the city and thinking ‘I need something fresh to bring back to the UK’. I thought about ad-libs that might sound sick and I landed on ‘PYO’. I kept saying it out loud and it sounded sick but I needed a meaning for it, so I came up with ‘protect your own’ or ‘protect your origins’.”

“…and then Bad Ombré, that was inspired by Channel 5 back in the day, innit”, he recalls. “There were these movies I used to watch every Sunday at like 9pm. Before that, there’d be something like an Aladdin or a Flubber on at like 6pm and that’d take me through until 9pm, which is when the bad boy films used to come on, the proper grown up films. I remember this film called Once Upon A Time In Mexico innit with Antonio suttin’ suttin’ (Banderas), the guy in Zorro basically. I just remember I liked the whole Mexican style of things, they were moving mad in the films still. I was like ‘nah this is harrrrrrd’. I picked up little Spanish words and phrases from there and just started putting them together. I remember thinking ‘rah, bad ombré … I’ve heard that somewhere, what’s the definition?’. I Googled it and it translated to ’bad man’ and I thought ‘yeah, that’s me … bad man’. That’s literally where the whole Mexican ting came from.”

“Would you say you’re a deep thinker away from music?”, I ask. “Yeah I’d say so, but I try not to dwell on things I can’t control”, PK says. “I just go with things like, ‘okay, it’s happened now, boom’. The other day I lost something so stupid … I can’t remember what it was but it cost me P … and I ended up just leaving it and getting on with things quick. Certain problems I can’t let myself think about because dwelling on things is just long. It’s not healthy for man.”

“Certain problems I can’t let myself think about because dwelling on things is just long.”

Switching our focus back to the music, it’s worth noting that despite all of 2020’s uncertainties, PK’s enjoyed a stellar 12 months. There was the elastic, hyper-catchy ‘Om-Buckle’ — a track released via Flow Dan’s Spentshell imprint that shares rhythmic parallels with JME and Tempa T classic ‘CD Is Dead’ — as well as standout EP, ‘King Yosho’ and singles including ‘Papaya’ and ‘Warrior Chants / Ps In’ with IZCO. 2021 has started brightly too, with singles ‘Hustle & Bustle’ and ‘Favela’ — the lead track to be lifted from new eight-track EP, ’Street Symptoms’ — released alongside a Streets Of Rage-style, semi-animated official video that sees PK walking through Kentish Town. “Om-Buckle’s a funny one”, he notes, chuckling to himself. “I made it while I was working with Flow Dan and I call him Skeletor, innit. It was around the time that Black Panther came out so everyone was doing the Wakanda Forever sign all the time. I remember being in the studio and he just kept saying to me, ‘you’re just an Om-Buckle MC, you’re just Om-Buckle’. I said to him, ‘who the HELL is Om-Buckle? What are you talking about?’. He told me to watch Black Panther and I’d understand so I did, and Om-Buckle is the rival to Black Panther from the other village who ends up helping him in the end. These times I had a high-top as well so Om-Buckle just stuck. We had the same trim and that so I just ran with it innit, why not?”

“‘Street Symptoms’ is literally about what I’m going through in my own space right now”, PK continues. “I’m on my grind, just keeping things moving … it’s got grime, it’s got rap, whatever you wanna call it, it’s just music from the streets that I hope people can vibe with. As far as beyond that goes, it’s still to the world and back and the galaxy and the universe and all of that. If I can speak for the mandem, I’ll just say we’re trying to be legendary in this ting. We’re trying to make as much as bread as we can to help our families and better our lives. Furthermore, shout out to everyone going through their own problems but making it happen for themselves regardless. Keep going.”

“We’re trying to make as much bread as we can to help our families and better our lives.”

Still markedly humble but armed with unlimited lungs (!) and seemingly unlimited ambition, even in the darkest of times, you can be sure that the hustle will never stop for PK — one of the UK’s best unsung MCs.

 PK’s ’Street Symptoms’ is out now:

slinky.to/StreetSymptoms

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